P.S. I Was An Extra
Category: P.S. I Love You News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: October 14, 2006 | Publication: Daily Mail (London) | Author: RUTH DORIS
It's the hottest Irish film since The Commitments and boasts a cast replete with Oscar winners. But when our writer joined the cast, nothing was as she had expected
LISA KUDROW is smaller than Phoebe, much prettier too than her alter ego. She brushes past, head to toe in a black, padded coat, all blonde hair sweeping down to frame her face, while she whispers conspiratorially into her mobile.
We, the extras, the cast of thousands, stand tiptoed, daring to breathe, straining to listen.
'What did she say, what did she say?' I ask the girl beside me. The girl hesitates, then says uncertainly: 'She said: "It's so bad, it's so bad I'm knackered".' Knackered? Would Lisa Kudrow really say 'I'm knackered'? They don't say that in America.
But then again, if she's feeling anything remotely like we are, that's the only word for it.
I know I volunteered for this, and I know I've rubbed shoulders with Hollywood stars, and I know there's a chance that maybe, just maybe, my face will be in the hottest movie to come out of Ireland since The Commitments but all the same I am utterly miserable I-just-want-togohome knackered. Being an extra is not all it's cracked up to be even on PS I Love You.
It all begins at 5 o'clock on Monday morning when the alarm interrupts my semi-comatose state. Hell! I'm due for a casting call in two hours. It's still dark when I arrive just after 7am at the Tivoli Theatre, where I join the long queue of other extras to sign in. The boys have backpacks and many of the girls are dragging little cases on wheels. We've been told to bring our own costumes clothes that we would have worn at a gig in Whelan's in 1995: casual, but cool. We'll only wear one but, hey, a girl has got to look good for her screen debut.
After I sign in, I'm told to queue for wardrobe.
There's coffee and breakfast to be had in a van outside but the bacon and sausage baps look like last night's leftovers and that's bad. We take out our 1995 options: only then are we told we also need an outfit for a contemporary day scene. Still, as one girl says, what people wear to Whelan's hasn't really changed much since the 1990s.
Next up is hair and makeup. I go to hair first, thinking that they wouldn't have much to do.
But the stylist spends ages pinning it back into an elaborate chignon and then suffocates me with hairspray. With two spiral tendrils of hair, it looks like I'm back in 1995 all right on my way to my debs ball. On the bus on the way to the shoot I discreetly take it down pin by pin. Who's going to notice?
I think I'm safe until I hear a voice ask 'is anybody sitting there?' and sense somebody slide into the seat alongside me. I look up into the eyes of the hair stylist. 'Oh,' he says, 'Your hair fell down'. I fib, fast. 'It started to fall so I took the rest of it out.' THE set, thank God, is only a few minutes away. Time to act. Except, no, we're not going on set but into a holding area upstairs at the Village pub. We are to wait there until we're called on set. Some people catch up on some sleep, others read the free newspapers.
There are about 150 of us: students in their late teens and early 20s, some a bit older, a few in their 40s. Guys, girls, some scruffy casual, others dolled up to the nines. I don't remember 1995 being like this.
Rory and Fergal, the extras' co-ordinators, strut around with their walkie-talkies, taking orders from the assistant director and answering an endless stream of questions from the extras. 'When are we going to be on set?
What time is lunch? When are we going home?' They don't seem to know any more than we do.
Then at 10 o'clock Group A is called, and then a while later Group B. Great, I think, that's me.
I make my way in a group of about 30 to the side entrance of Whelan's and start to filter in. But just before I get there, a hand slices into the queue and a voice calls: 'Stop! That's enough!' So it's back to the holding pen.
Over the next few hours Rory or Fergal come in to say 'we need five more' or 'ten more' and we rush to the door only to stand outside Whelan's in the cold while the director changes his mind again. Am I ever going to get into this bloody film? About half of us have not been on set yet and it's now lunchtime.
A few hours later, as we're languishing once more in the Village, some more extras are called. I jump up and race to the door determined to be on set at last. About 20 of us file in the side entrance to Whelan's. We are told to wait at the bar at the back overlooking the stage and main dance floor.
But within minutes we feel like we're getting in the way: camera and lighting and continuity and other crew dash back and forth, equipment is lined up along the floor in huge cases and I
squeeze into a gap between a case and a couple of extras to secure a place leaning against the bar. Glasses of lager, wine and lemonade are handed to us. One of the crew I think they're called 'runners' asks if anyone smokes and then hands out herbal cigarettes.
She tells us that when the scene begins we just have to look as if we're enjoying ourselves at a gig. Clap, cheer, smoke, drink and move to the music.
The cry goes out: 'Rolling!' and then, magically, Hilary Swank is there, only yards away. She picks up her pint of Guinness from the bar and stands in the crowd. On stage, Gerard Butler strums his guitar and breaks into song a folksy tune that begins with a bizarre 'eeh-eye-eeh-eye-oh'.
As he sings, he stares at a girl in the crowd and, still singing, steps off the stage to loud cheers. He approaches Hilary, who is wearing a fringe and is dressed in a leather jacket and a long green and black skirt.
'I like your jacket,' he says to her. 'Thanks, I won it in a bet,' she replies. They move around the floor; he steps closer; they embark on a long, lingering kiss. The cry of 'Cut' rings out. That was easy But no, they want another take. We grab our drinks again, get into character and we're rolling. Hilary grabs her pint, Gerard strums and sings, he walks over, they chat, they kiss'Cut!' Phew.
Except no, the director wants another take.
Lights are changed, camera positions moved, we grab our drinks, re-light our cigarettes and we're rolling, over and over.
Another take, different lights, different angles. Gerard must be sick of that silly song.
Hilary must be sick of Guinness.
Actually, her Guinness is providing a particularly Irish continuity problem.
After a few minutes, the head settles and loses its blackand-white icy sharpness so for every take she needs a new, perfectly-poured pint.
The extras are getting restless: in one take we're too quiet, in the next we're too exuberant. We're all sick of that bloody song. Finally, the magic words: 'Wrap!' But to our horror Rory tells us the day's not over yet. We have to go back to the Tivoli and change costumes (unless your face has been on camera, in which case you can't be in a 2005 scene too). Some of the extras pretend they've been in a scene so they can leave.
But Fergal has seen us coming: people who've been seen are on a magic list.
If you try and leave, you won't get paid. I'm sorely tempted to opt out: the thought of another long day, hanging around doing not much looms before me and this one isn't even over yet. 'It's torture,' says one girl. 'I'll never do this again.' But back on set we go. It's now after eight o'clock and we've no idea when we're going to finish. I stand at the back bar again: it's 2005-06, but the scene looks suspiciously similar. A guy plays guitar on stage the same song as before. He says: 'This is an American song, dedicated to Holly,' and sings for a minute or two before Hilary storms out of the bar past me, face like thunder followed swiftly by Gina Gershon and Lisa Kudrow.
This is the closest I've come so far to the stars. I should be excited but really I just want to go home. Eventually, at 10.30, we are allowed out. A half-page of script has taken almost all of the first day to shoot and we still have two-and-a-half pages to get through.
At least Tuesday's casting call isn't until 8am. Once again we're shooting the 2005-06 scene. We're supposed to be wearing what we wore last night, but that was actually a 1995 outfit and I'm not wearing it again. Sod continuity: it's their fault.
And at least today we're pretty much straight on set and I'm actually going to be in a scene. I sit next to a girl called Nicola on a wooden bench next to the doorway in Whelan's pub, pretending we're friends. A French guy is told to stand behind us and 'mac'. He looks bemused. The assistant director explains that he wants him to chat us up. He is shy and mac-ing for him is even more awkward because his real-life girlfriend is across from him, looking daggers.
THE scene is only 20 seconds long, and all that happens is that Jeffrey Dean Morgan (a particularly dreamy American from Grey's Anatomy) walks in past us, but I'm on camera so I don't care. We're told not to stare as Jeffrey walks by he's so gorgeous it's a bit of a challenge.
Of course this time they manage to shoot it all in two takes. That's it: my brush with fame is over. I'm exhausted and looking forward to the final wrap when an AD picks four of us for another scene. Then the technicans decide to change the set around, so, flustered, she tells us to wait 'in there' and shoos us through a doorway. And suddenly we're in Hollywood.
OK, to most people it's Whelan's beer garden: but today this is where the stars hang out. It's where they read their lines, have a coffee, eat and chat. It's their inner sanctum.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan is there, walking up and down rehearsing his lines. Up close, he is even more impossibly handsome, like a rugged Robert Downey Jr. I make a mental note to start watching Grey's Anatomy.
Gerard Butler arrives and the two men hug each other like long-lost buddies. They jostle playfully and hang about and then a voice calls him to the set. Gerard turns to Jeffrey and says, mock falsetto: 'I'm scared' Jeffrey tells him: 'Don't worry, I'll hold your hand.' Bizarre.
The Scottish heartthrob disappears through a door. In his stead emerges Phoebe, sorry Lisa Kudrow. She is quiet and softlyspoken. A Whelan's DJ asks Lisa to pose for a photograph with his daughters, adding that they are big Friends fans. She smiles shyly and says: 'Sure, I'm made up.' She waits patiently when his flash doesn't go off and coos over his baby. One of his girls keeps wandering back over to where Lisa is standing, pretending to want a carrot stick from the buffet but actually just staring at Lisa. I know how she feels.
Then Ronan Keating arrives, walking through the set with his wife, Yvonne.
As he chats to one of the crew he leans on a ledge at the bar. One extra, Antonia, approaches him and says politely 'Excuse me?'. Ronan rolls his eyes wearily at the prospect of having to sign another autograph for a fan but to my delight, his look changes to embarrassment when Antonia says: 'No, it's just that you're leaning on my jacket.' And with that, we're whisked back out of the beer garden: a bit of hanging around failing to get into the next scene and it's all over.
Filming is finished.
It's been exhausting, badly paid, mostly boring, with appalling food, and I'll probably never appear on celluloid. If they want me back when filming moves to New York next week I'll be there like a shot.